When we look close enough, it’s amazing how much is passed down from generation to generation at the smallest physiological level - - in our DNA.

Of course, there are obvious things recorded and transmitted in our DNA like hair, eye and skin color, height, body shape, and even general personality.  But, there are also less obvious inherited attributes - - like interests and talents - - that seem to appear in younger generations, almost out of nowhere, as time goes by (and that we often miss unless we pay very close attention). 

Are interests and talents transferred in our DNA too?  I am not a scientist, but it’s hard for me to believe that they appear merely as a result of “coincidence”! 

For example, I’ve observed that I’ve apparently inherited many interests and talents from my father that didn’t become evident until later in life. 

My father had a great passion for the law and was Valedictorian at his law school.  He also was an accomplished public speaker (placing second in a national collegiate public speaking contest), as well as was a renowned stage actor (particularly for his portrayal of Tevye in an off-Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof!”).  Over time, he perfectly melded these interests and talents in his professional career as a successful trial attorney.

I, on the other hand, shared none of these interests or talents - - at least not as a child or young adult.  In fact, it seemed I had inherited the exact opposite!  I never thought or cared about becoming a lawyer or even studying law.  I was also scared to death with just the idea of speaking before an audience or appearing on stage (even though I had many opportunities to do so since my father also produced and directed numerous musical shows).  I was far more interested in the solitude and quiet joy of literature and writing, which is why I majored in American Literature and History in college.  (I thought I’d become a great writer of historical fiction, the next James Michener!)

After college, I took a year off to experience what the “real” work world was like, and when my money just about run out and I realized my great novel was going nowhere, I became determined to pursue a profession where I could apply my “word-smithing” skills.  So, I decided to attend law school.  After I became a lawyer, I eventually specialized in estate planning, where drafting documents is, to a degree I suppose, a form of “literature” (or at least an outlet for a frustrated writer).  Maybe my aptitude for law was “in the DNA”, but beyond that, I didn’t yet see any other talents I had inherited from my Dad.

Then, a funny thing occurred.

I started my own law practice (like my father had done) and learned a great lesson.  Despite all of my credentials, degrees and knowledge, the phone didn’t ring.  I had to figure out how to bring in clients, something I had not been taught in law school.  One day, I happened to attend a public seminar that was being given by a real estate attorney.  He was short, stout, wore thick glasses and had a squeaky voice.  Yet, to my amazement, his seminar was successful!  He had clients scheduling appointments with him at the conclusion of the presentation and I left thinking, “Hey, if he can do it, I can do it!”.

However, my first few seminars were total disasters!  I can recall hiding behind a tall podium, reading notes as I paged through a spiral binder with my head down, rarely looking at the audience.  I was afraid to even raise my arms to make any gestures because I had perspiration seeping through not only my shirt, but my suit jacket too!  It was no surprise that I didn’t schedule any appointments, either!  It seemed to me that I had not inherited any of my father’s aptitude for public speaking or performing on stage.

But, I refused to quit and I kept the image in my mind of that other attorney I had seen.  I continued to “fall off the bike” until I learned to ride it.  Perhaps better stated, until the latent speaker/performer in my DNA came to life!  The rest is history.  Over the past 30 years, I have presented thousands of successful seminars and have found a true passion in speaking before and educating the public and other professionals.  Thanks, Dad!

The story doesn’t end there.  Now, let’s look at the impact of DNA on the next generation - - my children.

Since I’ve become a father, I’ve observed several fascinating examples of how my DNA has apparently passed down interests and talents to my own children.  However, those interests and talents weren’t mine, they were recorded in my DNA by generations before me!  And these did not appear until just recently as my twins, Jeana and Jason, are about to turn the ripe age of 27 later this month (some of you may remember when they were just babies - - how time does fly!).

After high school, my daughter, Jeana, started working at a women’s dress store and found out she had a great aptitude (and love) for “performing” on the store floor and persuading customers to make purchases.  The performing talent she may have gotten from my father, but the salesmanship definitely came from his father!  “Coincidentally”, my grandfather had opened his own successful ladies’ dress shop in a small New Jersey town, where he was famous for his sales skills (almost every lady in town eventually purchased from him the same polka-dotted dress!). 

However, Jeana wasn’t just mastered in women’s dresses and working in the tight confines of a store.  So she went on to attend cosmetology school and then worked for a while as a hairdresser.  But she found she didn’t like being stuck, standing behind a chair all day either, talking to the back of peoples’ heads!  She wanted to get out and about, speak to people face-to-face and pursue sales again.  So she became a representative of a major hair shears manufacturer and now travels from sale to salon, selling them to stylists (and has risen to be one of the top salespeople for her company in the entire U.S.!).  Once again, this reminds me of my grandfather, who decided his dress shop was too restricting and wound up in real estate development, where he built many family homes, traveling from one location to another, and sold them all himself!

I should add here that, not to be outdone by his sister, my son Jason recently embarked on a sales career too, in real estate!  (My grandfather, who passed on many years ago, must really be rejoicing somewhere now!) Who would think all of this stuff could be in the DNA?

Which leads me to the conclusion that, of course, will circle back to your estate plan - - but it isn’t about the legal documents we, as your attorneys, create.  Have you ever thought about passing down the history of your family and all the great stories about their personalities, interests and talents that may be buried deep somewhere in the DNA?  Take the time to write some of your family history down.  Or, share it in a family meeting.  Better yet, how about having someone video tape you telling these stories and displaying photos of you and your ancestors?  (We have a great videographer who can help you.  Contact Lance Keller at Digital Legacy at 310-798-7172 or visit his website at www.digitallegacyca.com for more information.)

Whether you share your family’s story directly or by video, it will be fun and exciting for both you and your family to discover…what’s in your DNA! 

Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.